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Revamped Flying Canoë Volant shines light in darkness

Tapping into Francophone and Indigenous roots

Back in 2020, the Flying Canoë Volant enjoyed a record attendance in the high five-digit numbers. However, as the pandemic wears on, the Francophone-Indigenous event has pared back in-person events by limiting attendance. 

Set to take place in Edmonton’s French Quarter, the outdoor walking event is a spectacle of wonder that defines nighttime mystery, magic and mysticism. Dubbed “Sights and Sounds,” its enchanting spell takes place between March 1 and 6. 

Although some activities were axed due to public health restrictions, organizers say they feel good about this year’s presentation. Scrapped are the indoor concerts, live dances, band performances, storytelling, food services, a massive snow slide and the über popular canoe races. 

But there is no shortage of its signature cross-cultural art exhibits, light installations and pre-recorded music and video soundscapes. They span a three-kilometre distance from La Cité Francophone and Rutherford School yard to Mill Creek Ravine’s beautifully illuminated forest. 

“It’s a unique cultural celebration, an artistic expression of Francophone, Métis and Indigenous culture and traditions in the heart of Edmonton’s Francophone region, and in the iconic Mill Creek Ravine,” said cultural manager Allen Jacobson. 

The Flying Canoë legend about a group of lumberjacks that make a deal with devil is once more resurrected along illuminated trails. Although live performances are not permitted, Roger Dallaire makes a voice recording of the somewhat spooky tale. 

“There are shadow puppets projected on a wall of the Trappers’ Tent.  It’s beautiful. It’s like traditional stick puppets. It’s a puppetry style that is brilliant with the devil, music and French-Canadian jigs and reels,” Jacobson said. 

More than 60 light installations by Dylan Toymaker, Third Space Design, Virginie Rainville, Lynette Maurice and Jean Grand-Maître bring to life various cultural mythologies. 

Toymaker returns with iconic traditional lanterns shaped from wood with cutouts. On the other hand, Third Space Design ushers in modern, eclectic light installations exhibiting a psychedelic presence – magic mushrooms, dancing lights and a 100-kilogram heart. 

“The heart is huge. As you get closer, it pulses in relation to your heart.” 

Although Jean Grand-Maître is internationally acclaimed as artistic director of Alberta Ballet, few people realize he is also a talented visual artist. 

“He’s sent us 12 piece of art paintings. There are figures, abstracts and pastoral scenes.” 

Live performances at the Métis Camp are on hold, however curator MJ Belcourt has pulled together pre-recorded three-minute snippets of various creative performers in different disciplines. 

They include Tammy Lamouche, a Cree blues singer, Trent Agecoutay, a folk-roots singer-songwriter and Curtis Cardinal, a heritage chef who will demonstrate how to make potato pancakes. 

One of the highlights is multi-award-winning, vocalist Celeigh Cardinal performing a short spot with original material which celebrates the beauty of the Canadian landscape and her culture. 

Two video recordings of St. Albert’s own Cristian De La Luna will also be presented at one of Mill Creek Ravine’s tent. The Columbian-Canadian singer-songwriter sings "Sabes," a love song that invites people to dance and to move, as well as, "La Flor" (flower), a lush tune featured on his upcoming album.  

Cree trapper Robert Grandjambe returns to Flying Canoë in a three-minute short. It is about his life living on the trapline adapted from the 45-minute documentary "Fox Chaser: A Winter on the Trapline." 

“He lives in Fort Chipewyan. He’s about 30 and has worked a trapline since he was 10 years old. He has a deep respect for the land and animals he traps. We have invited him last year to talk about his traditions and experiences. But this year he was unable to attend or bring his equipment and furs.” 

In this mashup of minority cultural customs and folklore, Rainville introduces a motion-activated contemporary exhibit; Maurice showcases lanterns constructed from recycled materials, and Raphaël Freynet reveals a video project that salutes Marie-Anne Gaboury, Louis Riel’s grandmother. 

“Anne-Marie was the first woman of European descent to settle in Western Canada.” 

Flying Canoë is free, however patrons are requested to pre-register online to ensure a safe experience for all. Pre-registration and information is available at www.flyingcanoevolant.ca

One-way signage marks traffic directions and everyone is required to wear a mask. Visitors are requested stay two metres (six feet) apart. 

“That’s about the length of a paddle, so keep a paddle apart and have fun.”